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GCSE Geography | Impacts of Energy Insecurity (Resource Management - Energy 3)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 23 May 2024

Energy insecurity is where supplies of energy sources are unreliable, e.g. they may be interrupted, or prices may fluctuate, with the potential for black-outs. It has many impacts...

Food production

About 30% of global energy is used to produce food, e.g. to power farm machinery, storage and transportation, and to manufacture fertilisers and pesticides. Less energy means less food can be produced, which in turn, has an impact on food security. Some farmers have recently opted for alternatives to expensive fossil fuels to generate the energy needed for production, for example, by using biofuels, however this still makes food production costly and food prices have increased.

In many LICs, firewood is the main source of energy – often people have to walk for miles to collect it, like the people in the photo below collecting firewood in Vietnam. This means that they spend less time farming, which again affects food security.

Industrial output

The demand for energy for industry is high. Fossil fuels are used as a source of power, but also as a raw material for some products – for example, oil is a main raw ingredient of plastics and cosmetics/toiletries. Many LICs and NEEs experience frequent blackouts which halt industrial production and is very costly to the economy. Such outages can result in smaller companies having to shut permanently as they can’t recoup the cost of lost hours of production.

Potential for conflict

It is common for conflict to be fuelled when one country holds a bigger share of an energy resource.

There has been conflict in the Middle East for years over who has access to the region's oilfields and the inequality of energy security, which at times has led to full scale wars, for example, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and the Gulf War (1990-91), with countries fighting to control energy sources. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991 Iraqi troops set fire to oil wells in Kuwait to disrupt the energy supply and cause economic harm (see image below).

The most obvious example of energy conflict currently is Russia, which has about ¼ of the world’s supply of natural gas – this means that it can threaten to raise prices or even cut off supplies to countries that are dependent on its gas supplies. For years there have been disputes over the pipeline that moves gas from Russia to European markets via Ukraine. This has been made even more complex by the current Russian-Ukraine conflict where many states have refused to buy Russian energy sources, as a protest. As a result, the demand for oil and gas from other suppliers had led to an increase in wholesale prices. Energy companies have passed on these increases to consumers, so we see an increase in our domestic energy bills.

If you have to rely on other countries to help meet your demand for energy it means that you are at risk of rising costs resulting from the fluctuation in the international wholesale price of different fuels or energy. For example, in April 2022 prices began to soar at petrol stations up and down the country, caused by an increase in the price of crude oil (the raw material used to make petrol and diesel). Crude oil had been much cheaper during the covid pandemic, as demand for energy collapsed due to so many businesses being closed. Once life began to return to normal the demand for energy rose rapidly, with competition between farming, industry, transportation and domestic users where suppliers struggled to keep up with the demand, pushing the prices up further. The cost of oil is also based on the dollar so when the pound falls in value against the dollar, it makes the cost of petrol and diesel even more expensive. If countries were more self-sufficient in meeting their energy needs, their industries wouldn’t be so affected by volatility in the price of energy, and nor would their population (householders or consumers).

Exploitation of environmentally sensitive areas

A lack of energy security can result in a country deciding to exploit resources in environmentally sensitive areas, with the potential to cause long-term harm, for example, widespread deforestation of tropical rainforests to make way for biofuel plantations, and flooding valleys in order to construct hydroelectric power plants, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China which had a huge impact on biodiversity along the River Yangtze.

One region at risk of environmental harm due to resource exploitation is the Arctic. Drilling for oil and gas take place here despite environment being very fragile, where recovery from damage is slow due to the low temperatures and short growing season.

In the 1960s vast reserves of oil were discovered onshore close to the northern coast of Alaska, and oil production began in the late 1970s, producing around 2 million barrels a day. The 800km Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS - pictured below) was constructed to transfer oil to the southern coast port of Valdez as ice in the northern seas meant that oil tankers couldn’t get close to the coastline. The pipeline was fairly complicated to construct because of the permafrost, meaning that the pipeline had to be raised off the ground and mounted on stilts (11m deep), so any heat from the pipeline wouldn't be able to melt the ground, but where it goes through tundra land which is part of the caribou migration route, it has been placed underground to prevent disturbance to these animals, and well insulated to prevent the permafrost below it from melting, but also to stop the oil from freezing, which could lead to pipes bursting.

But there are serious environmental issues here - particularly the risk of oil spills. The most devastating oil spill in the region occurred in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on the southern Alaskan coast. 1.2 million barrels were spilled - with only 15% ever recovered, and the impact on wildlife was huge with around 5000 sea otters, seals and eagles dying. In 2006 a broken pipeline caused 1 million litres of oil to spill out over the North Slope region in Alaska - an ecologically sensitive area.

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